What happens when everyone debuts their Super Bowl commercials before the game?

By Cory Bergman 

Two years ago, Volkswagen debuted its Super Bowl spot — the kid in the Darth Vader costume — on YouTube several days before the big game. It served up 12.5 million views, attracted dozens of national news stories and became the most-talked-about commercial on Twitter before opening kickoff.

We called the preemptive strike “a stroke of viral genius,” because it one-upped all the other advertisers battling for attention. But what happens when everyone else starts doing it, too?

Last year, 34 out of 54 of the Super Bowl commercials (some of them were teasers) debuted online before the game, according to YouTube. This year, it looks like just about everyone is splashing their spots early, or at least a substantial sneak peek. Here’s Volkswagen:

With everyone jumping the gun, you have to wonder if the social impact of such a preemptive strike is diluted. There’s also a bit of a spoiler factor. In a very unscientific survey, ESPN reporter Darren Rovell asked his Twitter followers whether it’s “smart business” to show Super Bowl commercials days before the game — 85% said no.

YouTube points to last year’s numbers. Ad campaigns posted on YouTube before the game averaged 9.1 million views each compared to 1.3 million for those who waited until Super Bowl Sunday. But there was one notable exception: Chrysler’s “Halftime in America” ad featuring Clint Eastwood appeared on YouTube after the game and spun up nearly 11.5 million views.

That Volkswagen spot above, posted just two days ago, has 1.8 million views. Audi’s spot, “The Prom,” has 2.5 million views after five days. But the winner this year so far appears to be Mercedes with the clip, “Kate Upton Washes the All-New Mercedes-Benz CLA in Slow Motion,” which has 5.5 million views after a week. No spoiler here.

Some brands, like Anheuser-Busch, are pre-releasing a mix of full commercials and teasers, to protect some game day surprises. And really, will people not watch the Super Bowl commercials as they air because they’ve already seen a few online? Unlikely. But perhaps you’ll know when to take a quick bathroom break: Axe’s “Apollo” has just 43K views and Century 21’s “Wedding” has just 6K so far.

Over the next few days, the numbers for all these YouTube clips will continue to rise at varying rates, especially as the media links them in stories far and wide. So far, it appears that the rush to splash spots early is only hurting those brands without memorable moments.

Meanwhile, Coke is taking a different approach this year, asking fans to pick the ending of its Super Bowl spot. Should cowboys, showgirls or badlanders win the battle to get a Coca-Cola in the middle of the desert? The pre-released spot — minus the ending — has 600K views.

Doritos continues its crowdsourcing approach to a Super Bowl spot, and it seems to be a hit, at least in YouTube views: the finalists’ clips add up to over 3 million views so far. Voting was on Facebook, which fueled the viral pick-up of the clips.

On game day, YouTube will roll out its Ad Blitz channel (above) — where you can vote for your favorite commercials — but with some notable additions over previous years. “(We’ve) added a slew of new social and gaming components to make the Ad Blitz YouTube channel the perfect big game companion whether you’re on your laptop, smartphone, or tablet,” explains YouTube, from a “touchdown dance GIF generator” to the ability to connect your social accounts and “see a real-time visualization of which team is winning the internet.”

YouTube’s big role in TV advertising’s biggest event is only getting bigger: it has doubled its Super Bowl-related revenue every year since 2009.